Shakespeare's Globe

Jack Straw’s promise to reform the House of Lords is long overdue. Remember Lord Kagan?

A Tory minister once said that being attacked by Roy Hattersley was like being assaulted by a bread and butter pudding. Bread and butter pudding is a bit infra dig for Hattersley who prefers the superior fare at the Garrick Club, but he was in his bread and butter element when he spoke at the launch of this year’s Gladstone Bicentennial celebrations at the former premier’s house in Carlton House Terrace. Hattersley declared that Britain’s greatest premiers all had five qualities – “integrity, courage, determination, certainty and endurance”.

The "Grand Old Man" (as the four-time Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was known) had them in spades, said Hattersley - as, of course, did Winston Churchill. However, Gladstone did not always endear himself to his monarch. Queen Victoria once complained: "He always addresses me as if I were a public meeting."

Hattersley went on to say that one of the reasons he was such a great admirer of Gladstone was that, unlike so many of today's politicians, he kept his word. "As I become older I become more and more admiring of politicians who stick to their principles," said the former Labour deputy leader.

However, he seemed less certain just how many of the "big five" qualities Gordon Brown possesses.

"Well, he certainly has courage," said Hatters, before heading off into the night.

And the other four? Time will tell.

Who's WhoSlumdog MillionaireSlumdogoeuvreShallow GraveTrainspottingInternational Who's WhoIts criteria for selection can also be baffling. Kate Moss is in but not Naomi Campbell. Why? When the novelist Adam Mars-Jones first entered Who's Who he listed his club as the London Apprentice. This was not your usual Pall Mall establishment. It was a gay bar on the fringes of Shoreditch frequented by leather-clad fetishists. It would be good to know what outré clubs Boyle likes visiting if nothing else.

The House of Lords has a lot in common with Who’s Who. Once you are invited to join its select ranks, you are there for life whatever your crimes and misdemeanours. The belated promise by the Leader of the House, Jack Straw, to overhaul the upper chamber could see convicted felons such as Lord Archer and Lord Black being stripped of their peerages. Critics say that this is a long-overdue reform.

Lord Kagan was stripped of his knighthood, which he acquired in Harold Wilson's first resignation list in 1970, after he was sent to prison for ten months for stealing from his own companies. But he was allowed to retain the peerage he was awarded in his pal Wilson's second resignation honours, the "Lavender List", and was able to prattle on in the upper chamber until his death in 1995.

At least Lord Black still has his clubs to fall back on. Just before he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, Conrad Black boasted he was still a member of several. "Yes, I'm a member of the Garrick, the Athenaeum, White's, the Beefsteak, and what's that one that belongs to a duke? Pratt's, and many other clubs besides, all around the world," he said.

Lord Archer was not so lucky. The peer was suspended from the Marylebone Cricket Club for seven years in October 2002 after he was convicted for perjury. Only nine months to go, Jeff, and you'll soon be back in the MCC - if you don't have to rejoin the club's 20-year waiting list.

The legendary industrial correspondent Geoffrey Goodman recalls that when Hugh Cudlipp ran the Daily Mirror he wrote a memo spelling out what his staff journalists must not do. No Mirror hack was to accept a “freebie”, he ruled, because they were usually promotional bribes. If the story was worth covering, the paper would spend its own money to cover it.

The other day, the editor of the Sun, Rebekah Wade, gave the Annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture and the word "freebie" did not once pass her lips. But she was asked by a journalism student whether her staff got paid extra for blogging. Cue guffaws of laughter from the audience. No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money, said Dr Johnson. Today no man but a blogger ever writes except for money.

Sebastian Shakespeare is editor of the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary

This article first appeared in the 09 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Revolution 2009

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times